This Week in Geek (27/06-03/07/11)


DVDs: Legend of the Fist is first and foremost a tribute to Bruce Lee. Subtitled The Return of Chen Zhen, it acts as a sequel to Fist of Fury, with Donnie Yen reprising Bruce Lee's famous role. Having survived the original film, Chen Zhen fights with the Allies in France during WWI, and later returns to Japan-occupied China as a member of the resistance. Cue awesome action scenes and another take on the dojo scene, but Infernal Affairs director Andrew Lau also takes the time to explore the historical and political elements of the story and adds the visual richness evident in his other films. The DVD extras are comparatively disappointing, amounting to less than 20 minutes of raw behind the scenes footage, with absolutely no interviews or any kind of commentary on the film making process. Ah well, at least the movie's awesome.

I should preface by saying that I am not particularly a fan of Olivier's acting, but I do find the films he's directed creative and interesting. His Henry V is, in fact, a revelation. Filmed in 1944 in gorgeous Technicolor, it surprises by spending the first half hour as an Elizabethan play, complete with flubs, a rowdy audience and actors winking at it, then takes us into highly stylized scenes that look torn out of Medieval paintings, and then into realistic battle scenes before pulling us out again. Not only does this make the boring parts of the play (i.e. discussions of Salic law etc.) incredibly exciting (that giant model of 1600 London is just amazing) and outright FUNNY (love the bishops), but it also makes the film do what the Chorus asks his audience to do, i.e. imagine the world on stage. Film historian Bruce Eder's commentary track is scripted right down to the exclamations, but it never gets tedious because he's got so much to talk about, from the real history, to Shakespeare to the film itself. The DVD also includes a few production stills, Medieval art and a cursory chronology of England's kings.

Now for some Doctor Who material (not to say the Black Guardian doesn't appear in Henry V, because he does). It was that kind of week. Fan lore would have it that the 7th Doctor's first adventure (with Mel), Time and the Rani, is one of the worst in the program's long history. While I won't try to convince you that it's a masterpiece or anything, I will say I'm not sure why people think it's so awful. I like the clownish 7th Doctor, and his malapropisms here are fun. The premise of a villain disguising herself as a companion has never been done before. And the special effects and make-up are impressive. It comes off as a jaunty romp with a silly comic book plot, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's especially good coming off the 6th Doctor's annoying era, and for a Pip & Jane Baker script (which fare better deprived of Colin Baker's particular affectations for verbosity). Call me pleasantly surprised. The DVD features the usual strong commentaries and making of material, with vintage and contemporary interviews.

Frontios (5th Doctor, Tegan and Turlough), while technically better received, I found a lot harder to get through. This story of Earth's last colony beset by giant woodlouse is uneven to say the least. It has structural surprises, but also subplots that don't pay off. It has some of the wittiest dialog of the 5th Doctor era, but also baffling Bidmeadisms like the the destruction of the TARDIS. The monsters are distinctive, but not really workable. The acting is at time excellent, and at others over-the-top. The direction makes good use of leveled sets, but is also lazy, leaving obvious flubs onscreen and coherence and continuity on the cutting room floor (as shown by the 15 minutes of deleted/extended scenes on the DVD). Even the commentary track is lethargic, the usually excellent Peter Davison failing to animate the other guests. The making of talks a lot more about the production problems than it does any of the story's qualities, which is how it should be.

CDs: While doing some drone work this week, I listened to Marco Polo, the fourth Hartnell serial, since lost to the Great Wipe in the Sky. The 7-part historical on 3 discs uses the original audio, supplemented by narration from William Russell (Ian Chesterton). Even without the images, the story comes across as atmospheric and inventive, mixing drama, comedy, cultural vignette and suspense smoothly. Russell's narration is unintrusive and adds a lot, especially since there a number of scenes that don't have dialog. I wish we could SEE it, but listening to Marco Polo in this format is the next best thing. A 4th disc includes interviews with the narrators of the first few Doctor Who narrators - Bill Russell, Carole Ane Ford (Susan) and Maureen O'Brien (Vicki) - about their time on the program (not about Marco Polo itself). The computer-accessible extras includes the original scripts scanned in pdf format and a map of Marco Polo's journey (with notes).

Books: Time, Unincorporated - The Doctor Who Fanzine Archives - vol.3: Writings on the New Series collects number of articles (from fanzines, of course, but some specially ordered texts as well) that by virtue of the subject matter, aren't as wide-ranging as the first two volumes'. However, it still manages variety with chapters on the spin-offs and the 11th Doctor as well as those on the series' return and the rise of RTD and David Tennant (without forgetting Eccleston and the companions, of course). The tone goes from spoof pieces to scholarly, and passing the ultimate litmus test, it made me revise how I think about the last few years' worth of Doctor Who, and in particular Russell T Davies' writing. Do I even need to say the word "Recommended"?

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: Been working on the new rule sheet and new templates. The following are neither final nor actual cards you'll find in the new Basic Set.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I
II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - Branagh '96


snell said...

I would say that part of Time & The Rani's poor reputation comes from a) fan anger at being cheated of a regeneration scene, and what we do get being borderline insulting (the Doctor killed by a wee bit of turbulence?); and the Rani's masquerade as Mel, while perhaps clever on paper, came across as too twee and too panto to many.

Siskoid said...

For sure, there was "at the time" disapproval, but knowing the regeneration was this in advance takes the sting out of it.

I can't defend Kate O'Mara's cartoonish performance, but to me, the worst Doctor Who stories are the boring ones, and this doesn't come off as boring.

snell said...

Obviously, all those future armies that quiver and run at the mere mention of the Doctor's name didn't get the memo, "Blimey, you can kill him by shaking his Tardis!"

Siskoid said...

I like Paul Cornell's contention in the novel "Love and War" that the 7th Doctor "suicided" the 6th because of a vision from Time itself that he would need a different temperament to become Time's Guardian and face comic troubles (i.e. having to mastermind plans to stop the Daleks, Fenric, etc.)

snell said...

"a vision from Time itself"

Or from Rassilon. Yeah, I went The End Of Time there. (Or maybe a vision from the mysterious female Time Lord...)

The Doctor certainly implies in Last Of The Time Lords that regeneration has a voluntary aspect. Still, I can't help but feel that Cornell's theory is far, far, far FAR too good a retcon for the botch job we were given in TATR--yeah, Pip & Jane had a tough situation to explain, but nothing excuses what they put up.

Siskoid said...

I do consider them among the very worst recurring writers of the classic series. Their original plot had the 6th Doctor regenerating when the giant brain blew up (which might have been a worse idea, come to think of it). I'm not entirely sure the bump on the head was their idea (no one actually fesses up to it on the DVD).

LiamKav said...

I suppose you can't really have the 6th Doctor heroically sacrificing himself if you can't use the actor, but at least a nice big explosion or something. They had a good opportunity to have a bad guy do something really serious to the TARDIS to show how This Shit Had Got Real, which makes the slight wobbling so much worse. If he was stationed on the Enterprise the Doctor would go through a regeneration a week.

Siskoid said...

Well, those ARE some pretty dangerous exploding consoles.


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